Led by junior guard Dominique Jones, USF is making a run toward the upper echelon of the Big East faster than many people expected. (Photo courtesy of ABC News)
Every year, there is one team that comes from seemingly out of nowhere to contend in the Big East, and the sleeper of 2010 may just come from the southernmost school in the 16-team conference.
That's right, South Florida. Despite having been among the lower level of the Big East since their move from Conference USA in 2005, the Bulls go into Sunday's matchup with Pitt with a 3-5 record in conference, a change of pace from what USF is used to, having won just eleven Big East games before this season.
However, the Bulls have talent, and it is primarily in the form of junior guard Dominique Jones, who averages an astounding 21.4 points per game for the 13-7 Bulls; not to mention newcomer Jarrid Famous, who pulls down just over eight rebounds a night.
USF is a program that head coach Stan Heath has quietly rebuilt, and the affable head man is no stranger to success, having been an assistant under Tom Izzo at Michigan State before taking Kent State to the Elite Eight in 2002 as a rookie head coach in Division I, a rare feat considering the road to success in college hoops. At Big East media day in October, Heath gushed over his team and their prospects for this season, and said that the "respect factor" was prevalent in USF's recruiting after the Bulls knocked off conference powerhouses Syracuse and Marquette in consecutive seasons, not to mention nearly beating UConn at home in an unforgettable overtime game that the Huskies won by just one point.
In addition, anything can happen in the Big East. Just look at DePaul, who broke a 24-game conference losing streak against Marquette last week. The Blue Demons also upset a heavily favored Cincinnati team in the first round of last year's Big East tournament. Can we see the same result from the Bulls this year?
Coach Heath and the college basketball world have every reason to be optimistic, as this program definitely is on their way to a bright future.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Michigan State heads back home to the Breslin Center after their 71-53 victory on the road last night against Iowa. Junior guard Kalin Lucas had 14 for the Spartans, who are now atop the Big Ten after No. 4 Purdue's upset loss to Wisconsin. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)
Now that the college basketball season is starting to heat up, I'm going to provide a regular post on some college programs that could really shake things up for better or worse going into March Madness and the NCAA Tournament. First up is Michigan State, as the now 13-3 Spartans, ranked tenth in the AP Poll, improved to 3-0 in the Big Ten with their 71-53 victory against Iowa, who they will welcome into East Lansing for their third of three consecutive games at the Breslin Center. Minnesota and Illinois come first for Tom Izzo's bunch, which was paced by fourteen points each from junior Kalin Lucas and sophomore Draymond Green, who also added eleven rebounds.
If you think this Spartan team is the same one that cannot get over the hump against North Carolina when the money is on the line, you are sadly mistaken. Yes, Sparty has fallen to the Tar Heels in each of their last three meetings; but the scores have become much closer every time out, going from 35 in December of 2008 to 17 in last year's national championship game, to just seven this past December.
What the Spartans lost with the graduations of Goran Suton and Travis Walton, they have gained with the emergence of Green as a regular contributor in the starting lineup, not to mention the stellar guard play of both Chris Allen and Durrell Summers along with Lucas in a potent backcourt that also includes sophomore Korie Lucious, whose long-range talents were on full display in last year's tournament. With Purdue having just lost to Wisconsin yesterday, it opens the door for the Spartans to potentially distance themselves from the rest of the Big Ten on the road to the Final Four in Indianapolis, a city in which they have never lost an NCAA Tournament game. Moreover, Izzo won his only national title in the Hoosier State capital ten years ago when his team led by Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson defeated Florida 89-78. Ten years later, Izzo has two players just like Cleaves and Peterson in Lucas and senior forward Raymar Morgan.
Several Spartan players have already referenced North Carolina this season by saying that the Tar Heels bounced back from a crushing defeat in the Final Four by eventual national champion Kansas in 2008, only to win a national title the following season. With performances like the one last night; not to mention history being on their side, it is safe to say that Michigan State will go a long way in determining who cuts down the nets at Lucas Oil Stadium for better or worse.
Saturday, January 2, 2010
Tomorrow night's Jets-Bengals game will be the last at Giants Stadium, barring a miracle. Above, legendary Jet fan "Fireman" Ed Anzalone leading his popular "J-E-T-S" chant. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)
One thing is for sure: There will be history made in the swamps of Jersey tomorrow night.
There has already been controversy in East Rutherford in the aftermath of the decision not to sell beer during tomorrow night's Jets-Bengals game at Giants Stadium, which ultimately does not make sense when you consider that the bulk of those in attendance will have access to alcohol via the pregame ritual that is tailgating, but does in a way because enabling and inciting what could be an aggravated fan base during a game that may not have the best result would only make the situation worse.
Back to the game at hand: For the Jets, it's simple. All Gang Green has to do is win and they are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Ironically enough, then-Jets coach Eric Mangini was in his first season at the helm, just as current head man Rex Ryan is. Should the Bengals prevail, however, it will bring about another winter of discontent for the long-suffering Jet fan base, a group that includes such luminaries as WFAN's Joe Benigno, frequent radio show caller Ira from Staten Island, and Ed Anzalone, (pictured) better known as "Fireman Ed."
Throw in the fact that the "Same Old Jets" have a tendency to give fans an emotional roller coaster ride; coupled with the fact that Giants Stadium will most likely be closing its doors for good after tomorrow night unless the Jets defy the odds and somehow host the AFC championship game, not to mention the much-maligned PSL plan unveiled by the organization in late 2008, and some Jet fans could be seeing their last game.
Tomorrow night will indeed be historic for better or worse, and Jet fans are hoping that their four decades of history does not repeat itself.
Friday, January 1, 2010
The Green Bay Packers are once again bound for the postseason, thanks in large part to Aaron Rodgers, who has thrown for over 4,000 yards in just his second year as a starter. (Photo courtesy of NFL.com)
The regular season is still not over, and the playoffs start next week. However, regardless of their Week 17 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals turns out, the Green Bay Packers have already won in a sense.
At 10-5, Green Bay will square off against the also 10-5 Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium this Sunday. Both teams have already clinched playoff berths, (the Cardinals have wrapped up the NFC West) and can very easily meet again in the postseason just one week later. For Arizona, the playoffs are the start of their NFC championship defense; but for Green Bay, it's a sign that the franchise and its rabid fan base have come full circle just two years removed from one of the ugliest divorces in professional sports.
After Brett Favre guided the Pack to the NFC championship game in 2007, he threw the interception that lifted the Giants into the Super Bowl; flirted with retirement only to play for the Jets, and now graces the field for Green Bay's archrival Minnesota Vikings. His exodus from Lambeau Field has been nothing but positive for all associated with Green Bay football, including his successor that served as Favre's understudy for three years.
In just two years as a starter, Aaron Rodgers has given Packers fans many beautiful days in the neighborhood, even after going 6-10 in 2008. His 63.9 completion percentage and 102.4 quarterback rating are just a small sampling of why he is going to the Pro Bowl later this month; and he just broke the 4,000-yard barrier for a second consecutive season.
Who says there are just three great quarterbacks? Rodgers has performed on a par with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, regarded by many as the current Holy Trinity of NFL quarterbacks, while only Brees, Philip Rivers and the aforementioned Favre have a higher rating than the fifth-year man out of Cal.
One thing is for sure: Whatever the future holds for the Packers, Rodgers should already have most of the Packer fan base asking one question:
"Won't you be my neighbor?"
With numbers like that, Aaron Rodgers will not have any problems moving into the NFL's elite, and will probably maintain his residence for a long time.
It's been six months since I last posted here, but the time is right to get back into the spirit. Happy 2010 to all, and get ready for what will hopefully be a much better twelve months than 2009 brought us.
You'll see somewhat of a change in content from me this year, as I will attempt to write more full-length articles, as well as more opinion pieces than what you saw last summer. So, without any further ado, here we go.